On My Thanksgiving Table, There’s Char Siu Right Next to the Turkey

My family’s spread is a combination of American and Asian customs.

November 02, 2020

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Photo by: Photo courtesy of Ronnie Woo

Photo courtesy of Ronnie Woo

For me, Thanksgiving involves two of the most important things in my life: family and food. Weekly family meals were routine growing up. Even as my sisters and I transitioned into adulthood, my parents made it a point to get us all together and have a big family meal on a regular basis – which is something I’ve always appreciated and cherished. But daily stresses can preoccupy us during these get-togethers. What makes Thanksgiving special is that for one entire day, everyone is simply present. We set aside our day-to-day obligations and worries, and just cook, catch up and eat a ton of good food.

Our family’s version of Thanksgiving is actually made up of a constantly changing menu. And even though we have a set of staples every year (like turkey, gravy and rice), we are definitely a family of innovation – always looking to try new dishes, different ways of making food or sometimes opting out of cooking side dishes altogether (no shame in getting takeout to help yourself out!). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to realize that my parents have always done an impeccable job of creating family traditions that combined both American and Asian customs without sacrificing our own history, culture and personal preferences.

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Photo by: South China Morning Post/Getty

South China Morning Post/Getty

As an Asian-American family, it made perfect sense to see a big, beautiful turkey roasted to deep golden-brown perfection right next to an inviting wok filled with fried rice and Chinese sausage; mashed potatoes next to sautéed bok choy; and a takeout container filled with char siu (Chinese barbecue pork – my favorite!). For dessert, we’d have apple pie (always a la mode), pumpkin pie (always topped with whipped cream from a can) and freshly cut orange wedges (a common way to end a Chinese meal).

The next day, my mom transforms the turkey carcass and any leftover meat into one of my favorite comfort foods: turkey congee, a hearty Asian rice porridge. It’s a crowd pleaser because it’s super customizable – the most fun part about eating it is choosing from a variety of toppings. It’s comforting yet light enough to qualify as a perfect Thanksgiving-food-coma recovery dish. My mom makes the best congee; it always feels like icing on the cake.

While the history behind Thanksgiving is quite controversial, I choose to see Thanksgiving as a modern holiday where we can eat until our faces fall off. With the exception of Native Americans, all Americans are immigrants. Good food has the power to unite us no matter who we are, where we’re from or what we believe. It’s because of this that Thanksgiving can be one of the most empowering days of the year. It’s all about family, friends and good food, and if we’re lucky enough to have one or all of these this year, in person or virtually, that’s something worth celebrating.

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